By Emily James
Although many sources claim that we’re now living in a post-pandemic world, COVID-19 is still circulating in healthcare settings and the wider community. As a nurse, the navigation of ever-changing restrictions and risk of contracting the virus can be nerve-wracking and frustrating. And with waves of infections still occurring in the community, it can sometimes feel like discussions of the virus and the threat of infection are inescapable.
But you have more power than you realise. We’ll always be at some risk of contracting the virus, no matter who or where we are, however, we can control our behaviour in high-risk settings and our emotional responses to news about the virus. It can feel challenging at first, but learning to manage your anxiety surrounding COVID-19 can improve your wellbeing not only at work, but in other areas of your life too.
In this article, we’ll take you through some of the ways you can strike a balance between taking necessary precautions against COVID-19 infection while caring for your mental wellbeing:
- Stay informed about COVID-19
- Follow all the prevention procedures in your workplace
- Avoid people, places and information that fuel your anxiety
- Your next steps
Stay informed about COVID-19
It’s perfectly normal to have a fear of the unknown, and we’re more likely to feel anxious about something we don’t really understand. That’s why staying informed about COVID-19 can ease a lot of your concerns, particularly in relation to prevention. Having practical and concrete measures in place to protect yourself and others can rule out a lot of uncertainty, and put you in the best possible position to keep yourself safe.
Here are some of our tips for staying informed about COVID-19:
- Use reliable sources of information such as government websites, websites run by health organisations and peer-reviewed publications;
- Look out for notes and messages indicating something has been fact-checked, or if something contains misinformation;
- Check in every now and again to see if restrictions and advice have changed and adjust your behaviours accordingly.
Although regularly updating yourself about COVID-19 recommendations is important, it’s important not to become obsessed with researching the virus. ‘Doomscrolling’ refers to scrolling through bad news stories on social media without being able to stop, and although it’s a relatively new phenomena, it’s already contributing to widespread and serious mental health issues.
Make sure you limit your time researching COVID-19 to what’s necessary (i.e. a few minutes every few days). If you find yourself doomscrolling, or see something that distresses or angers you, put your phone down and distract yourself with a different activity. This could be going for a walk, chatting with a person nearby, listening to music or simply spending time away from technology for a few minutes. These simple measures can help you stay informed to a healthy extent and ensure your research isn’t taking a toll on your emotional state and overall well being.
Follow all the prevention procedures in your workplace
As healthcare workers, nurses are surrounded by discussions of COVID-19 or even outbreaks in their workplaces. The virus is often at the front of your mind as a nurse, and agency nurses in particular can feel they’re particularly vulnerable if they’re working at multiple facilities. However, COVID-19 is at a stage where it is circulating everywhere, meaning that nurses are not just exposed to the virus at their workplaces, but in other areas too. This can be a source of anxiety for many, but it can also help you to realise that your workplace is no more unsafe than other places in which people don’t wear PPE, such as public transport, restaurants and rideshare vehicles.
Every healthcare facility will have some procedures and policies in place to protect staff, patients and visitors against COVID-19. Here are just some prevention measures you may see in your workplace:
- Wash your hands for 15-20 seconds before performing a medical procedure and after coming into contact with someone who is or could be infected;
- Wear PPE such as gloves, masks, gowns and eyewear in high-risk settings;
- Clean or dispose of contaminated equipment and materials safely;
- Maintain cross-ventilation in enclosed spaces by opening windows.
If you are unsure of the COVID-19 prevention measures you should be following at your workplace/s, you should consult a relevant colleague or manager. If you feel that certain measures aren’t being adhered to or need to be updated, you should also speak to a manager to ensure you’re being protected in accordance with current health advice.
Avoid people, places and information that fuel your anxiety
Healthcare workers find themselves in ever-changing workplace conditions as a result of COVID-19. They’re often at the forefront of fierce debates surrounding the virus, which although important, can negatively affect your perception of your job, your safety and even yourself.
We’re often told to confront our fears or troubles head on, but in the case of COVID anxiety, trying to repeatedly participate in emotionally charged or even hysterical discussions can do more harm than good. It can be tempting to respond to that rant against vaccines you saw on Facebook, or chime into that conversation about new restrictions in the tea room, but what will that really achieve? Trying to reason with someone who won’t be convinced on a certain topic will only leave you feeling miserable, so it’s best to avoid doing it in the first place.
There are many simple ways of removing yourself from situations of COVID anxiety both online and in the real world. Unfollow or restrict the accounts you see on social media that perpetuate hysteria, conflict and false information. Avoid looking at your phone as soon as you wake up and right before you go to sleep.. Politely excuse yourself from a conversation that has become heated or disrespectful in the workplace or elsewhere; it’s better to be alone than in bad company.
The innate caring nature of nurses can make it hard for you to prioritise your own needs and values, particularly in stressful situations. But if you don’t look after yourself first, you’ll find yourself feeling physically and mentally drained, and as a result will struggle to look after others. Remember that you have control over who you interact with, and have every right to remove yourself from a situation that is fuelling your anxiety, anger or another negative emotion.
Your next steps
The current health situation can definitely be a source of stress, particularly for healthcare workers, but you have the power to choose how you respond to certain people, information and situations. As COVID-19 will be circulating in the community for the foreseeable future, it’s important to find balance between staying informed and protected from the virus without letting it consume your life and have a detrimental effect on your health and wellbeing.
If you feel like your anxiety surrounding COVID-19 is affecting your day-to-day life, it might be a good idea to talk to someone who can help you develop some specific coping strategies. You can chat to your GP to receive a referral to a mental health professional, or you can use a range of free, online services for information and support. These services, whether in-person or online, should always be confidential, so you can chat about anything that’s on your mind in strict confidence with a trusted professional.
In the meantime, you can read our other blog posts regarding mental health and COVID-19:
- Wellness: not just a buzzword
- Your ultimate guide to maintaining a healthy social life as an agency nurse
- Diagnosis: burnout
- Staying safe on public transport during COVID-19
- Gratefulness in Mental Health Month
If you need to speak to someone urgently, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, or Emergency Services on 000. You can also visit the national mental health helplines & support groups page created by BeyondBlue to find an organisation that supports your needs more closely, such as MensLine Australia, 1800RESPECT or headspace.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is general in nature. For specific information relating to your personal circumstances, please speak to your healthcare provider.
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